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Sunday, August 6, 2023

Are You Shrinking?

Yes, we really do get shorter as we get older. Read on for why this happens and what you can do about it.

Maybe you’ve noticed that when you get measured in the doctor’s office, you’re shorter than you were in your 20s and 30s. No, nothing has changed on the measuring tape … you really are losing height. Along with worsening eyesight and less hair, loss of height is pretty inevitable as we grow older. 

At about age 40, men lose about an inch before turning 70 and women drop twice that amount. Men have more muscle mass and their bones are stronger, while women are more subject to osteoporosis. But why do we get shorter at all?  

“A little bit of shrinking is a normal part of aging, and it happens because of three things, basically,” explains Dr. Roshini Raj. To start, as we get older, the discs between the bones in our back lose fluid, so our vertebrae "simply come together, so your spine is actually shrinking a little bit." Another thing that happens with age is the flattening of the arches in our feet. Finally, we lose muscle, causing flabbier abdomens that lead to slumping posture. 

While some of this shrinkage is inevitable, there are some things you can do to lessen the effect. They are good for your overall health, too. 

Check What You Eat
While we can’t build bone as older adults, we can do our utmost to keep what we have. Your bones and teeth hold 99% of the calcium in your body. They need calcium and vitamin D to stay strong. Eat plenty of dairy (fortified milk, yogurt, and cheeses), almonds, broccoli, kale, wild salmon and soy products like tofu.

“Research has shown that a good diet in your later years reduces your risk of osteoporosis, high blood pressure, heart disease and certain cancers,” UAMS neurosurgeon Dr. T. Glenn Pait says. “Even though you might need less energy as you get older, you still need just as many nutrients from food.”

Vitamin D helps retain that calcium, and it’s lacking in most American meals. Get it via wild mackerel, salmon, sardines, tuna, and egg yolks. Fortified milk has a good amount, and UVB rays from the sun deliver vitamin D. A half hour in the sunshine is plenty, though, since you don’t want to burn your skin. 

Vitamins C and K are also essential to bone health. Eat citrus, strawberries, raspberries, pineapple, cantaloupe, tomatoes, cauliflower, broccoli, bell peppers, and parsley for the former, and leafy green veggies, parsley, prunes, avocados and kiwi for the latter. 

If you smoke, quit. Smoking damages bones and keeps you from healing quickly after a bone injury. Chronic alcohol use interferes with calcium absorption. Keep alcohol to a maximum of a drink per day. 

Work Out

Hanging upside down is not going to restore your height, unfortunately! But keeping active, especially with activities that make your legs and feet support your weight, will help keep your bones strong. Try running, jumping, going up stairs, hiking, brisk walking, jumping rope, weight training, dancing, and tennis (think pickleball). Research found that those who continued to do moderate aerobic activity all their life lost less height than those who sat around. 

Stretch Your Back

We’re not suggesting that you can stretch your back to get taller, but stretching exercises will improve strength and lead to better posture. Yoga and pilates are excellent choices for increasing flexibility, or use a stability ball. There are plenty of great back exercise videos on YouTube, or check out exercises  recommended by the Spine Health Institute. 

We can’t reverse our shrinkage, but we sure can get active and eat right to improve our future height and health!